May 28, 2006
Mondegreens in a language other than English
The only lists of examples I have seen of Mondegreens have been in English. Surely songs in other languages can have lyrics that are commonly misheard. But a cursory web search yielded no such lists in any other language. A note of clarification: I define mondegreens in stricter sense than the definition in wikipedia, which I think is too broad. I consider it to be a mondegreen if it is in the original language itself (i.e. not because of a bad translation) and if it occurs in song lyrics (i.e. no speech recognition or closed captioning errors).
Recently I stumbled upon what I consider to be a prime example of a Mondegreen in a Korean song. In the song "Little Baby" by 노 브레인 (No Brain) from the album "안녕, Mary Poppins" (Hello, Mary Poppins) is a line that I always hear as:
I love only squid
I mean, come on, who doesn't ... love squid, I mean. But the original lyrics are:
오직 너만을 사랑해
ojik noe-man-eul sarang-hae
I love only you
The Mondeviridity is enhanced quite spectularly by the assimilation of the kieuk in 오직 ojik in the context of the following nieun in 너 noe making it sound like ojing which makes it a perfect match.
The only thing consipiring against it is that 사랑 love in Korean seems to have a strong selectional preference for +human, the verb usually used to express the proposition of loving squid happens to be 좋다 to like. But for me, the love of devouring squid knows no such bounds. I think I need to get me some 오징어 볶음 ojing-oe bokk-eum right away.
PS: the romanization is my illiterate effort at following the official Revised Romanization.
Update 5/30/2006: Balaji has a post about Mondegreens in Tamil songs.
May 18, 2006
`I don't believe in natural science.'
From Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel, by Rebecca Goldstein. 2006. Norton paperback, ISBN 0-393-32760-4.
Though Princeton's population is well accustomed to eccentricity, trained not to look askance at rumpled speciments staring vacantly (or seeminly vacantly) off into space-time, Kurt Gödel struck almost everyone as seriously strange, presenting a formidable challenge to conversational exchange. A reticent person, Gödel, when he did speak, was more than likely to say something to which no possible response seemed forthcoming:
John Bahcall was a promising young astrophysicist when he was introduced to Gödel at a small Institute dinner. He identified himself as a physicist, to which Gödel's curt response was `I don't believe in natural science.'
The philosopher Thomas Nagel recalled also being seated next to Gödel at a small gathering for dinner at the Institute and discussing the mind-body problem with him, a philosophical chestnut that both men had tried to crack. Nagel pointed out to Gödel that Gödel's extreme dualist view (according to which souls and bodies have quite separate existences, linking up with one another at birth to conjoin in a sort of partnership that is severed upon death) seems hard to reconcile with the theory of evolution. Gödel professed himself a nonbeliever in evolution and topped this off by pointing out, as if this were additional corroboration for his own rejection of Darwinism: `You know Stalin didn't believe in evolution either, and he was a very intelligent man.'
`After that,' Nagel told me with a small laugh, `I just gave up.'
The linguist Noam Chomsky, too, reported being stopped dead in his linguistic tracks by the logician. Chomsky asked him what he was currently working on, and received an answer that probably nobody since the seventeenth-century's Leibniz had given: `I am trying to prove that the laws of nature are a priori.'
Three magnificent minds, as at home in the world of pure ideas as anyone on this planet, yet they (and there are more) reported hitting an insurmountable impasse in discussing ideas with Gödel.
Leave aside the comment about natural selection, and consider the other two anecdotal quotes attributed to Gödel. They are entirely consistent with Gödel's version of Leibniz's principle of sufficient reason; Gödel's so-called `interesting axiom' which is talked about earlier in Goldstein's book:
All of his thinking is governed by an `interesting axiom,' as Ernst Gabor Straus, Einstein's assistant from 1944 to 1947, once characterized it. For every fact, there exists an explanation as to why that fact is a fact; why it has to be a fact. This conviction amounts to the assertion that there is no brute contingency in this world, no givens that need not have been given. In other words, the world will never, not even once, speak to us in the way that an exasperated parent will speak to her fractious adolescent: `Why, I'll tell you why. Because I said so!' The world always has an explanation for itself, or as (Gödel) puts it, Die Welt ist vernünftig, the world is intelligible.
About Gödel's comments on natural selection, I find it hard to say anything remotely reasonable. Rebecca Goldstein cites an explanation about Gödel's intuitions about Darwinism by Steven Pinker, which essentially states that being a logician, Gödel disliked the non-determinism inherent in the Darwinian explanation. It comes across more as an apology than an explanation. But we do not need any explanation, of course. There is little doubt about Gödel's accomplishments, but like Einstein, the public, and even other scientists, expected these geniuses to provide deep insights (purely intuitive or a priori, by their very nature) on topics outside their expertise. The fault is not with them, but with us in taking everything they said all too seriously.
Update 5/29/2006: This update is meant to clarify one point that might be misunderstood. Unlike natural selection, Gödel's interests did in fact extend quite clearly into physics and even astrophysics. For a Festschrift in Einstein's honor, Gödel reluctantly published a paper that laid out a completely new model for the famous Einstein equations of General Relativity. In Gödel's interpretation so-called "Closed Timelike Curves" could exist, in which time can have cycles and you could revisit the past cyclically (perhaps this is also related to Gödel's interest in the existence of non-standard models in logic). For reasons not entirely clear to me, this interpretation has some link to observations of galaxies where if a significant number of them had a strong preference for spinning in one direction vs. another this would be a relevant finding. In a story that appears much later in Goldstein's book, some astrophysicists who were involved in such observations were asked to confer with Gödel and were taken aback at the sharp penetrating questions he had for them. `I wish we had talked to Gödel before doing our work.' was their comment after this conversation. It still does not explain to me his mysterious statement to John Bahcall above, but I suspect it does not mean what it appears to at first glance.
June 17, 2005
The Silk Code by Paul Levinson
It is a common observation that a detective story is a natural setting for a hard-sf story, because of the notional parallels with the scientific method. But it is rarely the case in science that the problem posed is much more interesting than the solution. The scientific and historical speculations dominate the earlier part of the book, but the book ends with a lacklustre detective story.
Paul Levinson starts with an interesting idea of moving away from technological sf towards hard-sf without much futuristic technology. This is risky business, because if the hard-sf details fail to be impressive then you are stuck with nothing, not even cool gadgets -- and this is what happens here. One is stuck between the absurdity of pinning all of the speculative science in this book on dubious things like cold fusion and the use of blowpipes which would be exciting perhaps in a Sherlock Holmes story.
The initial half of the book was so promising that the disappointing end was agonizing. Three dead bodies turn up, in New York, Canada and London, each of them have the physical characteristics of Neanderthals, are carbon dated to thirty thousand years but who have clearly died within the last 48 hours. Phil D' Amato, a forensic detective in the NYPD, has to figure out how this could occur. To make matters more stereotypical, investigators related to this event are being killed off mysteriously.
The first part of the book prefigures to a large extent the conclusion of the book in which genetic scientists are linked together throughout the millenia, from Lancaster County in Pennsylvania where the Amish live to the origin of homo sapiens sapiens. The speculative science, unfortunately, makes no effort to reconcile itself with all the evolutionary and fossil evidence of human origin that has been collected. It was as if the author was ignorant of these facts, or considered scientific fact unimportant to the speculations created.
The historical speculations are much more creative, elaborate and conform to the known facts in the area. The wonderful second part of the book opens in the Tarim Basin circa 750 A.D. in a settlement of Tocharians. This is the strongest part of the book. The fact that the real history of the `procurement' of Tocharian documents by Aurel Stein from Central Asia forms an important clue in the detective story was a nice touch. For more about the history behind the Tocharians, read "The Tarim Mummies" by J. P. Mallory and Victor Mair. For more about the exploits of Aurel Stein, read "Tournament of Shadows" by K. E. Meyer and S. B. Brysac.
Another intriguing idea, which was not fleshed out in the detail it deserved was the idea that the capacity for human-like language evolved only once: in the dance-like language of bees and moths. The Neanderthal species using various eugenic experiments managed to breed this capability into themselves, causing a new species to emerge which had the modern human capacity for language. This new species more adaptive than the Neanderthals, proceeded to eliminate their progenitors from the map.
The same kind of ideas and themes pursued in this book was also explored in "The Calcutta Chromosome" by Amitav Ghosh. That book was less obvious in construction and (to its detriment) more opaque as well.
Some interesting books mentioned in this novel were: "Partner of Nature" by Luther Burbank, and a book about the Silk Route called "To the Ends of the Earth" which was mentioned without authorship. I could not determine exactly which book this might be based on although I only did a quick library search.
%T The Silk Code %A Paul Levinson %I Tom Doherty Associates %D 1999 %G ISBN: 0312868235 (hc) %P 319 %K science-fiction
Review written: 2000/11/21
June 15, 2005
The Embedding by Ian Watson
A true classic, published in the 1970s, the writing is still fresh and the plot has not dated at all. This is a remarkable first novel in the long and distinguished career of Ian Watson.
This is one of a handful of sf novels that bases its speculations on the scientific study of human language, and it well might be the best of the bunch. Ian Watson takes the assumption that the internal structures of human languages reflects the human ability to observe and explain the physical universe while at the same time he is sensitive to the notion of an specific computational mechanism in the brain that guides first language acquisition. The "Embedding" of the title is a reference to a particular aspect of this computational mechanism.
The protagonist of "The Embedding", Chris Sole, works in a British linguistics research facility where they conduct experiments (which would be illegal in a contemporary setting) on young children, altering their reality by isolating them in strange environments and altering their brains with drugs, evaluating the change in the linguistic structures they produce. Another thread of this novel follows the French anthropologist Pierre Darriand who lives with a tribe deep in the Amazonian forest called the Xemahoa, who distort their reality with ritual drug-taking and who produce, in a way similar to the children in the lab, highly embedded linguistic structures. There is a third thread about aliens who arrive on Earth hoping to trade some of their advanced knowledge for the knowledge collected by Earth linguists: a great premise although somewhat less compelling in execution.
The "Embedding" is a property of recursive rule systems used by linguists to describe certain aspects of natural language. Take, for example, the following noun phrase:
the shares that the broker recommended which were bought
Let's denote the noun phrase the broker by the abstract symbol N1 and the associated verb phrase for it recommended gets the symbol V1. Similarly, the shares is called N2 and were bought is called V2:
N2 N1 V1 V2
We assume that we have to keep track of N2 (that is, we cannot discard it) until we see the verb associated with it, V2. This is called an embedding of size 2.
Convince yourself that in the following example, the embedding is of size 2 and not 3:
the mutual fund that had a 4-year term and the shares that the broker recommended which were bought
N3 V3 N2 N1 V1 V2
So can we make the embedding more complex? Here is another example where the embedding is of size 3:
the mutual fund containing the shares that the broker recommended which were bought that had a 4-year term
N3 N2 N1 V1 V2 V3
Can you construct or imagine accepting an example (in the language of your choice) with embedding of 4? How about 5? It is clear that humans have a definite limit on the number of center embeddings they can accept or produce. Ian Watson imagines a method that can modify brain structures to accept embeddings of increasing sizes that normal humans cannot process. Why is this interesting? Computationally a deeper embedding has implications for how certain kinds of recursive patterns can be processed, although going from there to the transcendence of human linguistic ability, including the perception of multiple spatial dimensions, is quite a stretch, and this is what Ian Watson speculates about in this novel.
The use of the Xemahoa's awareness of time is probably an allusion to the famous linguistic/anthropological "discoveries" about the tense system of Hopi. Another possible insider joke is the abduction of an Eskimo Innuit speaker as part of the plot towards the end of the novel (see "The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax" by Geoffrey Pullum).
Unlike previous attempts in science-fiction to deal with the connections between language, thought and perception (see, for example, "The Languages of Pao" by Jack Vance), Ian Watson plays with the various linguistic hypotheses on this topic in his fictional framework by introducing artificial means for changing the brain itself while simultaneously changing the reality experienced by a language learner.
However, the the overwhelming cynicism that pervades the book can get oppressive. This does not detract from the book and perhaps it is function of the time when this book was written. The constant berating of the Americans is one-sided and repetitive, imho. The new face of English Socialism in science-fiction, e.g. the output of authors like Ken MacLeod seem much gentler in comparison.
For a different take on this novel, read Pamela Sargent's Introduction to "The Embedding". Some other examples of linguistic speculations in sf novels are: "Native Tongue" by Suzette Haden Elgin' "The Languages of Pao" by Jack Vance and a critical survey of such sf novels in "Aliens and Linguists: Language Study and Science Fiction" by Walter M. Meyers.
Update : Mark Liberman has instituted the Trent Reznor Prize for Tricky Embedding, thanks to the following quote by Reznor from an interview:
"When I look at people that I would like to feel have been a mentor or an inspiring kind of archetype of what I'd love to see my career eventually be mentioned as a footnote for in the same paragraph, it would be, like, Bowie."
Here is a brief unraveling/analysis of the Reznor embedding:
When I look at people (with some characteristics) it would be Bowie (who fits those characteristics)
>> [NP people [RC1 that I feel have been a [NP mentor NP] or [NP archetype of [NP what I would love to see my career mentioned as a footnote for (archetype) or in the same paragraph as (archetype) NP] NP] RC1] NP] <<
NP = noun phrase RCn = relative clause of embedding n
A1 = the argument of mentioned
%T The Embedding %A Ian Watson %I New York: Carroll and Graf Publishing Inc. %D 1973 %G ISBN: 088184554X (pb) %P 217 %K science-fiction
February 07, 2005
The Tarim Mummies by J. P. Mallory and Victor H. Mair
Early European explorers of the Silk Road like Aurel Stein and Sven Hedin found some astonishing mummified corpses buried in an elaborate ritual style in the Tarim Basin. The ancient oasis cities that skirt the Taklamakan desert have such dry weather that ancient bodies buried in the desert have preserved perfectly for thousands of years.
In later years, Chinese archaeologists have discovered many such burial sites and recovered an amazingly large number of mummies from various sites. For example, the Qizilchoqa cemetery was discovered by Wang Binhua in 1978. Victor Mair, on noticing the strangely Caucasoid appearance of the well-preseved bodies embarked on the pursuit of an answer to their origins and whether they had any contact with prehistoric Chinese civilizations, a topic close to his academic life. The search would be most effective if it involved the fields of archaeology, historical linguistics and genetics. To this end, he enlisted the efforts of J. P. Mallory, a noted scholar in the study of the hypothesized Proto Indo-European language and Paolo Francalacci who assisted in the DNA analysis of the mummies. In the end, the most promising clues of DNA analysis could not be applied since they were able only to analyse and report results on a single specimen. Hence, the focus of the book is mainly on the archaeological and linguistic facts.
The astonishing Chinese discovery of wonderfully preserved four-thousand-year-old human bodies with clothing in perfect condition in the Tarim Basin of western China is fully described by Mair and Mallory in this fascinating and well-researched account. They reach the daring, and perhaps provocative conclusion that these were `the first Europeans in China' -- a view certain to prove controversial.
I'm not aware if the authors had anything to do with this quote being at the back of this book. But this blurb encapsulates the kind of writing style that made the first half of this book exasperating for me. This notion of `the first Europeans in China' is belied by the conclusions they they reach as the most plausible at the end of the book (reproduced below):
- The earliest Bronze Age settlers of the Tarim and Turpan basins originated from the steppelands and highlands immediately north of East Central Asia.
- These colonists were related to the Afanasevo culture which exploited both open steppelands and upland environments employing a mixed agricultural economy.
- The Afanasevo culture formed the eastern linguistic periphery of the Indo-European continuum of languages whose centre of expansion lay much farther to the west, north of the Black and Caspian seas. This periphery was ancestral to the historical Tocharian languages.
- By about 2000 BC the Afanasevo culture, which was at the time being absorbed by the Andronovo culture from its west and other cultures in the Yenisei region, pushed southwards and came into contact with settled Indo-Iranians to the northwest of the Tarim Basin. ...
- Many of the Bronze Age mummies preserved in the archaeological record of East Central Asia may be assigned a probable (Proto-) Tocharian identity.
There are few more conclusions that are drawn, but even from these points it can be seen how incorrect the blurb at the back of the book is and it shows the hype used to promote this book is mostly misplaced. It does not detract from the actual findings, but it seems that even in academic writings the notion of truth in advertising is slipping away.
By `Europe' (when used with or without quotes in this book), they mean the European (sometimes called Eurasian) Steppe, and usually the easternmost part of the so-called Western steppe which forms one part of the overall plain. The Western steppe extends from the grassy plains at the mouth of the Danube River along the north shore of the Black Sea, across the lower Volga, and eastward as far as the Altai Mountains. In this book they seem to place the origins of the mummies as the north-west shore of the Black Sea. In other words, hardly `Europe' as most laypersons would understand the word.
In fact, from the above conclusions the truth is actually even more complicated. The origin of the Caucasoid mummies is placed most plausibly in the steppes immediately north of East Central Asia. Hardly Europe, but despite their own conclusions the first half of this book is littered with hints that the origin of the mummies has to be European.
And here we must face the frequently ignored asymmetry of the Indo-European space-time continuum.
And then there's the goofy style of presentation. For a book aimed at the pedantic audience the authors far too cavalier at several points where you reasonably expect some precision in the writing. The authors spend interminable amounts of text explaining historical details which in the final analysis are completely irrelevant to final conclusions. They take us through their (understandably) tangential thought processes in their search for an answer to the puzzle of the origin of the mummies. They include discussion of Herodotus and ancient Chinese legends. Inspite of this, they fail to introduce to the reader in the earlier chapters the prehistoric Afanasevo and Andronovo cultures from the northern part of East Central Asia which forms a crucial part in their final answer. Also, they change the focus partway through the book to only the prehistoric mummies, ignoring the mummies from later periods (4 B.C to 400 A.D.). However, in earlier chapters they take great pains to explain the environment of the entire known history of the Tarim Basin, even the complex history during which it served as part of the Silk Road.
%A J. P. Mallory %A Victor H. Mair %T The Tarim Mummies %T :Ancient China and the Mystery of the Earliest Peoples from the West %I London: Thames and Hudson Ltd %P 352 %D 2000 %G ISBN: 0500051011 (hc) %K history, archaeology, linguistics
Date written: 2001/02/09
September 09, 2004
The Symbolic Species by Terrence W. Deacon
This book might look like a popular science book describing all the wonderful research into neurolinguistics and what it has discovered about language acquisition. Unfortunately, the neuroscience described in this book, while fascinating, has little to do with language (apart from the parts mentioned later in this review). And the speculations about language acquisition in children and the evolution of language in the human species are poorly informed about linguistics.
Terrence Deacon only cites Chomsky's philosophy of language works and Pinker's popular book on the subject -- no mention anywhere of Principles and Parameters and any of the work on learning theory for natural language. As a result, at one point he equates Universal Grammar with `deep structure' which to anyone who has taken an introduction to linguistics course will make it clear what insights Deacon has about linguistics. This is not to say that he does not make some compelling points about the evolution of language: just that this book will not herald the revolution in thinking that Deacon clearly hopes it will accomplish. Particularly since Deacon's evolutionary `just-so stories' are also less than compelling.
The most interesting part of the book lies in Part Two: `Brain' which concentrates on the neuroscience of human and other species. The descriptions of the localization of language in the human brain and the motor control of vocalization are the most lucid passages in the book. After talking to some people who are more informed in this area, I also realized that the studies presented here about unconscious control that humans have over relaxation reaches and other aspects of planning in behaviour are quite important for the notion of composition in language syntax and semantics. Unfortunately, these links are barely touched upon and are not described in the detail that they deserve. Deacons spends most of his time instead talking about his co-evolution theory of language complexity in humans.
The co-evolution theory is fleshed out only in a fraction of this book and has many apparent problems which are left unresolved at the end of the book. However, Deacon presents some interesting examples of animal vocalization: Hoover the talking seal and language acquisition, without human intervention, by apes: the case of Kanzi. It is important to note that all the animal vocalization cases have been subject to some great skepticism in the psycholinguistics and linguistics literature. Deacons makes it clear that while humans share many communicative aspects with other primates and perhaps even seals, there is a clear jump in complexity in human language. Also interesting is the discussion on the communicative laughter in humans and other primates. It is a pity that the interesting parts alone were not strained out of this tome to make a shorter and more interesting book.
%T The Symbolic Species %T :the co-evolution of language and the brain %A Terrence W. Deacon %I W. W. Norton & Company %D 1997 %G ISBN: 0393038386 (hc) %P 527 %K science, neuroscience, linguistics
Review written: 2000/06/05
June 25, 2004
The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax by Geoffrey Pullum
This is a collection of 23 essays written by Geoff Pullum which originally appeared in the `TOPIC ... COMMENT' column in the journal `Natural Language and Linguistic Theory'. Pullum's columns ran in NLLT for six years. If you have ever read a paper on linguistics (published after 1950) then this book is required reading.
Pullum's essays are organized into four broad sections:
- `Fashions and Tendencies' which contains essays about the practice of linguistics, for example in "Formal Linguistics meets the Boojum" he parodies the strange retreat from formalisms in formal linguistics.
- `Publication and Damnation' consists of essays about the day to day work of working linguists who spend their days "Stalking the perfect journal".
- `Unscientific Behaviour' catalogs among other topics how the subject of whether natural language is contained within the set of context-free languages was explored by linguists (in "Footloose and Context-Free") and how certain myths about language have a life of their own (in the eponymous "The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax").
- Finally, `Linguistic Fantasies' contains a loosely connected set of essays including a list of science fiction books about linguistics (in "Some lists of things about books") and a fascinating fictional(?) tale of how one linguistics book was written (in "The incident of the node vortex problem").
The subtitle of the book promises "Irreverent Essays on the Study of Language" and it delivers. You can find current writings by Geoff Pullum on similar topics appearing on the language log.
%T The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax %T :And Other Irreverent Essays on the Study of Language %A Geoffrey K. Pullum %I The University of Chicago Press %D 1991 %G ISBN: 0226685330 (hc) %G ISBN: 0226685349 (pb) %P 236 %K science, linguistics
Review written: 1999/08/02
May 12, 2004
The Decipherment of Linear B by John Chadwick
In the year 1900, archaeologist Arthur Evans discovered several clay tablets at Knossos in Crete with writing in an unknown script. Civilization in Crete (named Minoan after its legendary ruler) was at the time (well before the late Bronze Age) more advanced than Greece. Legend tells of Athens' subjection to King Minos of Crete. The tablets of Minoan writing went through distinct historical changes: there was an early `heiroglypic' writing, then the script matured into pictorial signs called Linear A, which then was replaced by a modified form called Linear B. This book is the story of how the tablets in the Linear B script were read.
The Minoans were not Greek and spoke the Cypriot language and so the established hypothesis was that there was some relation between Linear A and B and the Cypriot script. The Cypriot script did play a role but amazingly enough, an outsider to the field: Michael Ventris, showed using some novel cryptographic techniques (described in detail in this book) that the language in Linear B was in fact a Mycenaean dialect of Greek.
Chadwick an early supporter of Ventris explains the method and the results in accessible detail. Some of Chadwick's early discussion of the background is quite muddled, which is unfortunate since this book is best single source for this information. The decipherment process itself as documented here is an intellectual treat.
Also amazing is the story of the decipherer: Michael Ventris. Born in 1922, he studied to be an architect in London and after earning his diploma worked on the design on new schools. Meanwhile, in 1952 he claimed to have discovered the key to the Minoan script (amazingly the first decipherment of the Mayan script also occured in 1952, see "Breaking the Maya Code"). Since he was an outsider to the field, and his views were contrary to the academic establishment his views were vindicated by his peers only by 1955. Soon after his theory became accepted, while driving home alone one night his car collided with a lorry, and he was killed instantly. He was 34 years old.
This book is a lite version of the book John Chadwick co-authored with Michael Ventris called "Documents in Mycenaean Greek" (Cambridge University Press, 1956).
%T The Decipherment of Linear B %A John Chadwick %I Cambridge University Press %D 1958 %G ISBN: 0521398304 %P 164 %K science, linguistics
Review written: 1999/08/09
May 11, 2004
Breaking the Maya Code by Michael D. Coe
Like a lot of good science books, this book is a good detective story. The ancient Mayan language in written form was found on several ruins in South America in the 18th century but these inscriptions were not read until the 1950s. This book is the story of this decipherment. The subject matter of writing systems and Mayans is quite a challenge to present in a pedagogically sound way, but Michael Coe is thankfully competent enough to tell this story. And he tells it very well indeed.
Coe's introduction to writing systems in general (in Chapter 1: The Word made Visible) is extremely well written. As an aside: for some new work on the topic of writing systems there is a book coming out in 1999 by Richard Sproat ("A Computational Theory of Writing Systems": Cambridge University Press) which tries to give a general theory that covers all known writing systems.
Coe also gives a reasonable insight into the ancient Mayans (he also has another book devoted entirely to this subject) although reading up on the Mayans before reading this book is perhaps a good idea (if you haven't already suffered through several idiotic documentaries about the Mayan astronauts).
There are many surprises in the story (as it should be in a good detective story). It is inconceivable that scholars for more than 200 years preferred theories about the Mayan language involving mythical lands such as Atlantis rather than accepting that the people living there now spoke essentially the same language as the Mayans. Even more surprising that although the ruins were discovered in the late 1700s, only in 1952 the first beginnings of a real decipherment was accomplished by Yuri Knorosov in an article published in `Sovietskaya-Etnografiya' (despite Stalin's stifling influence on the content of this and other journals of the time).
Further reading in this topic includes "Understanding Maya Inscriptions: A Hieroglyph Handbook" by John F. Harris and Stephen K. Stearns and "The Decipherment of Linear B" by John Chadwick.
%T Breaking the Maya Code %A Michael D. Coe %I Thames and Hudson %D 1992 %G ISBN: 0500277214 %P 304 %K science, linguistics
Review written: 1999/08/04
January 21, 2004
Syntactic Processing in a Nonhuman Primate
Two posts by Mark Liberman on the languagelog about the Jan 16 Science magazine article: by Tecumseh Fitch and Marc Hauser entitled Computatational Constraints on Syntactic Processing in a Nonhuman Primate, and a "Perspective" piece by David Premack entitled Is Language the Key to Human Intelligence?
The comments by Mark Liberman:
- Jan 16: Language in humans and monkeys
- Jan 17: Hi Lo Hi Lo, it's off to formal language theory we go